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As nursing shortage plagues hospital systems, second-career nurses have stepped up

The pandemic added a lot of strain, pushing some into retirement, but pay and burnout have also contributed to a nationwide shortage.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — A nursing shortage has been plaguing hospital systems nationwide and in the Carolinas. The pandemic added a lot of strain, pushing some into retirement, but pay and burnout have also contributed.

Like so many other hospitals, Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill has had to shuffle staff around to meet patient demands. Many nurses are working overtime trying to fill some of the gaps.

“It has been very stressful, and we experienced the pain of that from administration down,” Jennifer Church said.

While many nurses have reported burnout and left their career altogether, during the pandemic, traveling to the hardest-hit areas was lucrative for many.

It created staffing challenges but a silver lining now, many are returning to home base.

“In the last six months, we’re starting to see a return of those nurses to the bedside back to the community hospitals, so that’s encouraging,” Janet Bright, Chief Nursing Officer at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, said.

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Plus, there are some people looking for a fresh start and a new challenge, starting a second career as a nurse -- people like Church and Laura Bell.

It’s a far cry from what Church used to do. She spent years running her family’s auction business, but never felt fulfilled. So once her kids graduated, she went back to school to become a nurse.

That’s where she met Bell, who after working as a marketing liaison was also ready for a change.

“I felt like I needed something more,” Bell said.

Both started their second careers at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill.

“Nursing school was the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, including raising children,” Church said. “But it has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Their passion for the job is vital right now, as many are choosing to leave.

“Because it’s their second career and they’ve chosen thoughtfully to do this, they bring a compassion and just a passion for the job,” Bright said.

Another challenge has been building up a pipeline of new nurses. Both Church and Bell are starting third careers as teachers to pass their passion on.

“I want to be able to teach so someone else can step in my shoes,” Bell said.

With so much competition in the area, hospitals have to work hard to recruit and retain talent. For now, Piedmont Medical Center is offering $20,000 sign-on bonuses.

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Bright said they’ve learned to be flexible too.

“Not all sizes fit one person and there’s all kinds of levels of nurses out there today,” she said. “There’s new young people who really enjoy their free time as much as their young time. There’s moms that maybe just want to work night shift or work the weekend. And then there’s our seasoned nurses who maybe just want to work one night a week but have so much to give.”

Piedmont Medical Center is hosting a hiring event at the new hospital in Fort Mill on Jan. 26. They will be making offers on the spot.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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